The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Conservative Party Fringe Meeting 2007

Demanding a vote on Europe

Syed Kamall MEP
The Rt Hon. John Redwood MP

 

 

THE SPEAKERS

JOHN REDWOOD MP
John Redwood, MP was first elected as the MP for Wokingham in 1987. In May 1993 he was appointed Secretary of State for Wales and was made a Privy Counsellor. In 1995 he challenged John Major for the Conservative Party leadership.

As a keen advocate of free enterprise he regularly speaks out for smaller government, lower taxes and more choice.

In December 2005 he was appointed as the Chairman of the Party's Economic Competitiveness Policy Group.

He has written widely on Eurosceptic issues, free enterprise and democracy. His most recent publications are; Singing the Blues, Third Way – Which Way?, Our Currency, Our Country, Stars and Strife: The coming conflict between Europe and America and The Death of Britain?

 

SYED KAMALL MEP
Syed became a Member of the European Parliament in May 2005. In May 2000, Syed was a Conservative Candidate for the Greater London Assembly. The following year, he was Conservative candidate for West Ham in the June 2001 General Election.

Syed is an associate of the Centre for Social Justice working to identify community based projects at the forefront of tackling poverty for the CSJ alliance. He also sits on board of the Conservative Party's Globalisation & Global Poverty working group. In the European Parliament he is the Conservative spokesman on the International Trade Committee.

Syed was educated at the Latymer School, Edmonton. He has a degree from Liverpool University, a Masters from the London School of Economics and a PhD from City University, London. He is a Visiting Fellow at Leeds University Business School where he has lectured MBA students in international business and strategy and supervised doctoral students’ research. He has written a number of articles on the international strategies of firms and foreign investment. In 1996, Syed completed a book on EU telecommunications policy.

Before entering the European Parliament, he worked as a consultant to companies on marketing, strategy and public affairs. In 2003, he started a diversity recruitment business. Syed is a co-founder of the Global Business Research Institute (GBRI), an educational body conducting outreach to business executives, journalists and civil servants, promoting a greater understanding of globalisation and its consequences. Syed’s interests include telecommunications, transport, postal services, broadcasting, global free trade and foreign investment.

Speech by John Redwood, MP

The constitutional treaty is part of a process to try and create a United Federal States of Europe. Indeed, it would not be that federal because there would be an enormous amount of central power coming from the Brussels machine. We as democrats object to it because the power is not properly democratically accountable. It is exercised mainly by unelected senior executives (who on the continent are regarded as if they were elected politicians), the Commissioners, and of course a lot of it is done through the process of the court itself, constantly driving decisions in favour of more and more federal power.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a mighty cause that we must unite to fight. This is a vital cause if we want to keep our democracy in Britain, or if we want to recapture parts of our democracy that have already been lost, needlessly frittered away by an insouciant government that tells us one thing and does another.

This is a mighty test of British democracy itself. It goes to the very heart of the breaking of the bond of trust between a main political party and the people who elected it. The government promised and the government has failed to deliver. It goes to the very issue of whether you can believe politicians and political parties in general when you have so many senior politicians in this country seeking to tell you the fanciful, that this is not the constitution, that this is a very watered down version of the constitution, that there is nothing serious going on, that you will be able to carry on governing your own country in the usual democratic way after all these powers have been surrendered.

This is a government which is now dicing with the most important powers of the state of all. It is playing nonchalantly with the right of parliament and government in this country to decide if and when our forces should be committed to battle, what our foreign policy stance should be on the major problem areas of the world, how people should be charged with serious criminal offences and how they should be treated if they are found guilty of those criminal offences.

These are the very essence of state power. We here don't think those powers have always been well used and sensibly used by this government, but what we want is to continue to live in a system where we can challenge the way the government of the day makes decisions over war and peace and criminal justice and foreign affairs, and where we are in the right to persuade the British people and come to power to do something differently.

What we wish to avoid is the British people ending up in a position where, because they don't trust their politicians enough, and because some of their politicians so badly mislead them, we end up with those vital decisions taken way away from these shores by people we cannot elect, and more importantly, by people we cannot drum out of office when they do the wrong thing.

The one power that all parliamentarians seriously fear is the power of the British electorate to dismiss us when we get it wrong and when we misbehave and when we let you down.

I am a democrat to my core. I believe in that power. I believe I should be accountable to all my electors, and on national issues to the wider nation. I want that power the people have over their elected representatives to be strengthened, and I want the power my elected representatives have over the laws and the administration of this country also to be strengthened so the accountability can mean something. The more the power is transferred to the unelected and the unaccountable, the more people will scorn and despise government, the more that bond of trust will be irreparably broken, the more your democracy will be taken away from you.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is vital we unite and fight. It is vital we use any general election forthcoming to make this one of the big issues of the day. It is vital we do not miss our opportunity. We fought them and won to save our pound. Now we need to fight them and win to save our country.

 

Speech by Syed Kamall, MEP

I don't want you to think that I am in any way self-deluded, but thank you very much for all coming to see me speak today. It's not quite my biggest crowd but I'm getting there. I'm working my way up.

I think if it wasn't for Margaret Thatcher we really wouldn't be here today. If it hadn't been for Margaret Thatcher, there would have been no inspiration for the Bruges Group. Without Margaret Thatcher there would of course be no Bruges speech and the word 'Bruges' would remain synonymous for ever with famous Liverpool victories in Europe. As a fan of Liverpool and Margaret Thatcher, I am very privileged and honoured to be speaking here today at the Bruges Group, and thank you, Robert, for organising this.

Anyone who rereads the Bruges Group's speeches will find that it was a work of real political vision. You only have to look through the text to see that Mrs Thatcher refused to accept that cities like Warsaw, Prague and Budapest were for ever destined to be part of the Soviet empire. No, really, real political vision, she pointed to them as great European cities and urged us never to forget those people who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity, who had been cut off from their roots by the Iron Curtain. She made the critical distinction between Europe as a geographical entity, with a diverse culture and inheritance, and the word "Europe", which is used often as shorthand, in those days to mean a European Community and these days we use it to mean the European Union.

She taught us lessons for today. Europe belongs to us: the peoples of the countries of Europe, the peoples of the member states of the European Union. Europe is so much more than the institution of the European Union, and it is vital that the institution is not allowed to take over parts of our lives in which supranational political entities should have no business.

In the 20th century, last century, our party stood firm against Labour's commitment to nationalisation, and by doing so we managed to convince the Labour Party and Tony Blair to remove clause 4 from their constitution. But in the 21st century, this century, the greatest threat to our way of life today comes not from nationalisation, not from nationalism, but from what we call supranationalism: the attempt by the political elites to subjugate the 27 nation states, the member states of the EU, into a single political and legal jurisdiction.

That is what the European constitution seeks to do. It doesn't matter if they prefer to call it a reform treaty. What matters is what it does to us and how it changes the way that we in Britain are governed and how people in other countries of the European Union are governed. Previous treaties were simple power grabs, involving the removal of responsibility from national governments to the European level. Now we support some of those as Conservatives. Many Conservatives supported accession to the EEC, many supported a single European Act, because we saw it as part of our free market principles and taking those forward. But make no mistake, the new treaty fundamentally changes, and for ever, the way that we are governed.

You don't have to take it from me. You only have to look at what the leaders of Europe have been saying. When Angela Merkel said "The substance of the constitution is preserved", that's a fact. Or the Spanish Prime Minister, Zapatero, saying we have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go". Or from the French author of the constitution himself, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, when he said, "All the earlier proposals will be in the new text but it will be hidden and disguised in some way." Hear it from the horse's mouth.

I have to say that when I speak to my colleagues from other European countries, I can understand probably why they are in favour of a constitution. I can understand why they probably like much of the text in the constitution. Indeed, if I were from Portugal, Spain, Greece, maybe even Germany with a history of dictatorship, I would be attracted to the European constitution. It would make it harder for a despot to seize power in my country because it creates a new sovereign authority above country level. But I am not from any of those countries, I am from England. I am from London. I know some of you will disagree with me, but I think it's the greatest city in the world. We have a far more mature democracy and tradition of liberty than can be guaranteed by a pan European constitution. In our country we have a constitution, albeit unwritten, which has served us well through centuries, based as it is on blend of monarchy, represented democracy and common law. And this evolving set of growing institutions is now being swept away by a whole new set of supranational structures and the import of alien legal structures.

Can we really run English common law alongside a Napoleonic code? Can you really run the English concept of freedom, protected by reason, alongside a European Human Rights Act which is interpreted so rigidly that reason plays no part in the law's application? For example, the import of the European law which is responsible for this country's failure to deport murderers such as the killer of headmaster Philip Lawrence. We need to stop importing bad laws and start deporting bad people.

The Reform Treaty sets us up to be on the receiving end of countless new laws, some of which might well be good for the UK but many of which are not. And if there are good laws, do we really need to import them from Brussels? What is wrong with making those good laws at Westminster, or even in government structures closer to people, especially those of us who believe in a local democracy and direct democracy agenda. Let us have power as close to the people as possible.

But there will be many laws and policies introduced which will be unsuitable for the United Kingdom and which we will have little power to stop. John has already spoken about the energy policy. Let's just touch on that again. The treaty gives the EU power for the first time over the whole field of energy, and potentially Britain's oil and gas reserves. Brussels will be able to decide issues relating to taxation of these reserves without Britain's Parliament having a say, and in times deemed by the EU to be times of crisis, the EU could force Britain to share its reserves with other member states. And remember, Norway is not a member of the EU. With a shaky Middle East and uncertain relationships with Russia, we need to plan an independent energy policy, not be beholden to the rest of Europe, but this treaty removes our veto over the energy policy. By signing the treaty, the government has given up, by its own admission, 50 other vetoes. Some respected research bodies like Open Europe put the figure at about 61. So what? It just shows how many vetoes are being given up. And on top of that, we are changing the system of qualified majority voting to make it harder for countries like Britain to stop the Commission's proposals from becoming law. This treaty, by some estimates, shifts five times as many government areas of responsibility from Westminster to Brussels, from the Maastricht or Amsterdam treaties. A power of this size alone should justify a referendum.

But there is so much more in this treaty which represents a fundamental change in our government's structures. The treaty for the first time will be self amending, a wonderful bit of legal efficiency. The treaty means that permission to change the institution's responsibilities in the European Union will no longer be given by the parliament of the member states. It will now be possible for governments simply to agree changes to the treaties without reference to our national parliaments. In other words, the source of sovereign power has been formally removed from the peoples and parliaments of Europe and given to whoever happens to be in ministerial office at the time. If anyone is looking for a lesson from history as to what happens when you take away the source of sovereignty from peoples and parliaments and hand it to ministers doing deals, then read up on how the Weimar Republic was transformed into a Third Reich.

Now, I don't want to be over emotional about this and I'm not suggesting that history will repeat itself exactly, but all I'm saying is that there are important lessons in history to be learned, and which should be remembered, and if Gordon Brown gets away with not holding a referendum at this time, he will never have to hold another referendum on Europe again, because a treaty could simply be amended at the stroke of his pen and his colleagues' pens in the Council of Ministers. Simple as that.

What this treaty does is establish for the first time a fledgling state, the European Union, which until now, despite our disagreements and debates over it, has been a club of sovereign states pooling sovereignty in the hope that we will all gain by taking a common approach to issues. But under the Reform Treaty let's call it by its proper name -- the constitution, the UK, is no longer a sovereign state. Our sovereign state is now the European Union, with all the institutions you would expect of this state, including a president, a foreign minister although he or she is not called a foreign minister, a “high representative of foreign affairs”, and a diplomatic service.

So where the immediate advances in European integration caused by this treaty could be colossal, it is potential for further integration that should concern us more and more. We have all talked about the ratchet effect in the EU, where powers are gradually and remarkably transferred upwards, click by click. The treaties themselves are interpreted by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, who are both advocates of Europe integration, and will always deduce them in as integrationist a manner possible from the text.

Some of the most significant advances in the creation of the federal Europe were never agreed by national governments in a new treaty, or by the European Commission in the consultation on UPs that have come about through jurisprudence of European judges. National elected governments never envisaged, for example, that the European Commission should have power to set criminal law across 27 member states. Yet a European court ruling in 2005 set a precedent that has now been used by the Commission to decide what constitutes a crime in a number of policy areas, including environmental crime and counterfeiting. This treaty could open the floodgate to European supranationalism, something which most people in our great country do not want. The people of this country do not belong to the bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels or in Europe. We should belong to a democratic United Kingdom.

The Labour manifesto at the last election promised a referendum on the constitution. Gordon Brown himself said "The manifesto is what we put to the public. We’ve got to honour that manifesto. This is an issue of trust for me with the electorate."

Well, we know the truth. We know that you can't trust Gordon Brown. If we don't get our referendum we will have to take our chance at the general election. And while Europe may not be the most central issue, those of us who knock on the doors, we know that the EU sadly is not, there, a top 1, top 2, or even a top 5 issue. People are worried about education, the health service, crime, taxation, immigration. It may not be the most central issue, but what we can make the issue is the issue of trust in Gordon himself. This is the man who brought in stealth taxes, the man who stole our pensions, the man who squandered a golden economic legacy, the man who wasted billions failing to improve the Health Service, the man who deprived our armed forces of equipment, that they need to fight an anyway unpopular war, the man who said he put an end to boom and bust, but a man who engineered a credit boom out of bank and bust. He is a man whose words will come back to haunt him, and on so many issues, including that of the European referendum, it is our job, ladies and gentlemen, to expose the true Gordon Brown before he hoodwinks the British people into letting him give away our great country.

Thank you very much.